Lunch and learn about intercultural competence

Ryan Jarvi

Grand Valley State University will once again bring intercultural competence to the forefront when it hosts a conversational session next week discussing stereotypes, biased language and why people use them.

Regina McClinton, professor of liberal studies and inaugural director of the Intercultural Training Certificate, will host the event called “Brown Bag Lunch and Learn Series: A Conversation about Intercultural Competence.”

The session will also discuss how individuals can become aware of their biases and improve their communication skills.

“When we use offensive, hurtful language, intentionally or unintentionally, we not only hurt those to whom we are speaking, we damage our work environment, and also devalue and disrespect ourselves,” McClinton said. “Communication that is biased, stereotypical or demeaning undermines morale, teamwork and productivity in an organization.”

A hostile work environment and legal issues can result from poor communication, McClinton said. They can also damage a company’s relationship with customers. The workshop will help participants learn what appropriate communication is in the workforce.

“Today the world is smaller than ever before,” McClinton said. “We are constantly encountering people with different backgrounds, yet we don’t know how to appreciate differences or how to even learn about our differences.”

After receiving her degree in plant biology, McClinton was hired by GVSU as a faculty member in the biology department, but she realized a need to increase intercultural competence. Through living in different regions of the country, she said her life experiences have prepared her to do that kind of work.

“When I learned that students were being asked to describe their experiences in diversity for grad school apps, I knew that we, GVSU, needed to do more to support students in their interactions with folks who are of a different culture or subculture,” she said. “I am by nature a problem solver and saw this as a problem we needed to solve.”

McClinton then worked with Mark Schaub, chief international officer of the Padnos International Center, and Maria Cimitile, assistant vice president of academic affairs, to develop the Intercultural Training Certificate program.

The certificate is a university-wide program that is housed in the Brooks College. To complete the program students must take five courses before the certificate can be included on their degree.

Required courses include an introductory course, which is a general education U.S. Diversity course; two electives taken from students’ majors or themes; a practicum that immerses a student in another culture; and a capstone.

“GVSU is one of a few universities to offer such a credential and our format, having both academic and experiential learning components, makes ours unique in the nation,” McClinton said.

The certificate is not just for looks, though. As the world becomes more interconnected, intercultural competence is becoming a desired skill for many employers and colleges, McClinton said.

“Many companies are insisting that their employees gain this skill set, and for those who do the certificate, they obtain it as part of their curriculum giving them a competitive edge,” she said. “We are finding that more and more of our students come from mono-cultural backgrounds, growing up where everyone is pretty much like them, so they don’t experience difference of thought or perspective, and many haven’t established their own values. The certificate teaches correct information on culture and also challenges students to examine their own world views.”

The event will be held 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 24 at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, located at 201 Front Ave. near GVSU’s Pew Campus.

For more information on the Intercultural Training Certificate, visit
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